Pitching Pause Among 2017 NFHS Points of Emphasis
By Todd Korth
It has become common for players to wear wristbands that include play calls, color coded into different sections with many combinations. They have replaced signs for better accuracy and it has become commonplace in the game, but the wristbands have brought some unintended consequences, especially with pitchers.
Quite often a pitcher will look to a coach for the type of pitch to throw, listen for the number, then look to the wristband for the type of pitch. With the pitch in mind, the pitcher at times will then step onto the pitching plate and immediately go into her windup before firing off the pitch. While pitchers will pause to communicate with a coach off of the pitching plate, they don’t often pause once on the pitching plate, and that has become a problem across the country.
To combat that problem, NFHS has made it a point of emphasis for the 2017 season that umpires enforce the rule that pitchers take and/or simulate taking a signal while on the pitcher’s plate. Two other points of emphasis include the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices and educating umpires on the key points of the DP/FLEX option.
Taking the signal. When the pitcher does not pause after stepping onto the plate to take or simulate taking a signal from the catcher, it is known as “stepping into the pitch” and is not only illegal but can be dangerous to an unsuspecting batter. That rule protects the batter. The pause indicates that the pitcher is ready to throw the ball.
There are specific requirements for the placement of the pitcher’s feet in each code, so call an illegal pitch if those rules are violated. In ASA, NCAA and USSSA, the non-pivot foot must remain in contact with the plate. If a right-handed pitcher places only her right foot on the pitcher’s plate, looks to the catcher for a signal and then moves her left foot forward and contacts the rubber, it is illegal in ASA, NCAA or USSSA, but not in NFHS. ASA, NCAA and USSSA require that the pitcher must take or simulate taking her signal while both feet are on the rubber. Non-compliance in those codes results in an illegal pitch.
In NFHS, even if the pitcher takes the actual signal behind and not in contact with the pitcher’s plate she must comply to that section of the rule by simulating taking the signal from the catcher once she is on the pitcher’s plate with her hands still separated. Then the pitcher must bring the hands together in front of the body for not less than one second and not more than 10 seconds before releasing the ball. The hands may be motionless or moving.
Rule 6-1-1 states that the pitcher shall take a position with the pivot foot on or partially on the top surface of the pitcher’s plate and the non-pivot foot in contact with or behind the pitcher’s plate. Both feet must be on the ground within or partially within the 24-inch length of the pitcher’s plate. Once the hands are brought together and are in motion, the pitcher shall not take more than one step, which must be forward, toward the batter and simultaneous with the delivery.
Any step backward shall begin before the hands come together. The step backward may end before or after the hands come together.
NFHS’s pitching rule supports a wide range of pitching styles by allowing a pitcher to start with both feet on the pitcher’s plate, one foot on and one foot behind or to step backward as a part of their pitching motion. The NFHS Softball Rules Committee feels the pitching rule, as written, allows players the greatest opportunity to pitch at the high school level.
The plate umpire is generally responsible for watching the pitcher’s hands and if she stays inside the width of the pitching chute. The base umpire(s) is mainly responsible for watching the pitcher’s feet.
Uniforms. The rules committee discussed concerns about the use of glitter or reflective materials on hair control devices. Coaches and players are reminded that a uniform shall not have any reflective adornments. Reflective materials on ribbons, bows and headbands, including glitter and rhinestones, are considered illegal and should not be permitted.
A headband made of elastic material that is designed to be tied in the back is not considered a bandanna, and is legal if it meets the color and manufacturers logo restrictions.
DP/FLEX reminders. The rules committee is asking coaches and umpires to be familiar with rules regarding the DP/FLEX. The following are key points to know regarding the rule.
• The DP can never play defense only.
• The FLEX can never be on offense only.
• The FLEX and DP can never play offense at the same time. The FLEX and DP positions are linked by the DP/FLEX rule. If the FLEX is going to play offense, she has to do it in the original DP’s position; therefore only one of them can play offense at a time.
• The FLEX and DP can play defense at the same time. The DP can play defense for any player other than the FLEX and no one has left the game.
• The starting DP and starting FLEX each have one re-entry just like all other starters.
• Once the game is started with the DP/FLEX positions in the lineup those positions are available for the entire game. Even if the starting DP or starting FLEX has left the game a second time, the position is still available and an eligible substitute can enter the game as the FLEX or DP. So even though the starting player(s) left the game twice and cannot re-enter, their position(s) is/are still active as long as the team has eligible substitutes.
Todd Korth is a Referee associate editor and multi-sport official, including high school and college softball.